New look at an old religion

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Darren Thompson has spoken at colleges across the country concerning issues related to American Indian culture, but before Wednesday's Soup with Substance presentation, he had never actually spoken at his own school.

About 40 people attended College of Arts & Sciences senior's presentation "In the Hands of the Great Mystery: An American Indian Perspective on Religion." Thompson explained the presentation's title by saying, "we understand things happen for a reason, and that's a mystery."

Thompson, an active member of the American Indian Movement, began by playing a tape of a tribal song.

"A lot of the way (American Indians) do things is either through song or through experience," Thompson said.

It was not his intention, he said, to give a presentation on comparative religion, but instead to offer "a different side of religion" from his perspective as an American Indian.

Thompson said he believes the world religions, such as Christianity and Islam, tend to focus more on "time and history," whereas American Indian religion centers on "the here and now." American Indians do not separate what they can and cannot see. Instead, their language is based on faith.

"Native spirituality is probably the oldest religion in the world," Thompson said.

One unique aspect of American Indian religion is that it has no priests, churches, Messiah or written code.

"Our survival depends upon our community and the communal nature of our people. We have stories that basically teach our morals and values to our children," Thompson said. He called American Indians "a very misunderstood religious minority," and said their spirituality is different and more universal than people might assume it would be.

"I thought it was really interesting that they have no symbols. (Christians) relate to the cross, and they have nothing like that," said Tom Villanova, a College of Business Administration junior.

Instead, Thompson said American Indians value the wisdom of their grandparents and traditions.

Thompson touched on a few current social and political issues affecting American Indians, such as using mascots with Indian themes, the excavations of tribal burial grounds and Indian artifacts kept in museums instead of given to the American Indian people.

He said American Indians are in conflict over who they are as a people, and that one of those conflicts centers around the Native American Church, which is a mixture of American Indian and Christian beliefs. Some American Indians follow the church, while others, like Thompson, practice a more traditional American Indian belief system.

Pat Farrell, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said he thought it was interesting that a student was giving the presentation.

"I'm surprised that a student has such a passion for his religion and his background," Farrell said.

Thompson said he thinks it is important that people realize the value of American Indians.

"We are still here. We still exist, and that is something I think should be cherished and valued," he said.

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